Negri believe they are still in the trophy chase
NEGRI Sembilan fans have had little reason to be cheerful since the team’s relegation from the Super League in 2013 but that could change today.
With Negri leading the Premier League standings and on course for a return to the top-flight, coach Asri Ninggal’s side also have a chance at lifting their first piece of silverware since winning the 2011 Malaysia Cup.
All they need to do is overcome Super League title chasers Pahang, who travel to Paroi protecting a 1-0 lead from the semi-final, first leg in Kuantan.
Asri is certainly counting on home support to get past Pahang and reach the May 20 final in Shah Alam.
“With the support of tens of thousands of supporters, I believe the players are ready to give it their all,” said Asri, looking to add to Negri’s FA Cup wins in 2003 and 2010.
“We still have 90 minutes to play and we have prepared well for the match, even though we had to deal with a few injuries.
“Negri have not been at this stage of the tournament for a long time and anything can still happen during the game so we must make the most of our chances.”
Asri could welcome his top scorer Bruno Castanheira back from injury after the BrazilianJapanese forward returned to training this week, having missed two matches.
Castanheira’s absence was greatly felt in a 1-1 draw with Armed Forces in the Premier League last weekend, a result which stretched Negri’s winless run to five matches, including three successive league draws.
The striker’s return means Asri can return to his preferred lineup with Farderin Kadir making way as Castanheira links up with Marko Simic, Lee Tuck and Khairul Anwar Shahrudin in the search for goals.
Pahang will also be able to unleash Gambian forward Mohamadou Sumareh, who missed the first leg through suspension, as Dollah Salleh looks to win the FA Cup as a coach for the first time since 2005 when he was in charge of Selangor.
That remains Dollah’s only success in the tournament after playing in the final just once in 1990 when Selangor were beaten 4-2 by Perak in the inaugural FA Cup.
Dollah will be tempted to make a few changes after watching his side capitulate to a 3-2 defeat by Kelantan at home in a Super League match last weekend.
The Pahang defence conceded almost immediately each time Matheus Alves scored to even the scores, a situation Dollah said should not have happened.
“When we were at 2-2, we should have done a better job of focusing and defending,” he said after the match which dented their title aspirations.
Among the players who could return to first XI are striker Chinedu Bright Dike and midfielder Kiko Insa while employing a three-man backline, which Dollah has done once this season, is also an option.